Love it, hate it: Conservationists split on Sherman pick to head USFS

Some conservationists praised the Obama administration’s nomination Thursday of Harris Sherman to the post of Undersecretary of Natural Resources and Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Others aren’t quite so sure the two-time head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources is the right choice.

Sherman, who also serves on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission board that spearheaded tougher, more environmentally stringent drilling regulations, has been lauded for helping to give more weight to air and water quality and wildlife habitat issues during the state’s recent natural-gas boom.

“Over the past two years, Sherman showed bold leadership in protecting our land, water, and wildlife resources from the impacts of oil and gas development,” Environment Colorado advocate Matt Garrington said in a release. “Sherman’s leadership was key in passing strong protections of our natural resources in the face of unbalanced energy development.”

Pending U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee and full Senate approval, Sherman would oversee the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service – the agency in charge of millions of acres of federal lands in Colorado where a great deal of oil and gas development has occurred over the past decade.

Others in the environmental community felt Sherman’s direction of the Department of Natural Resources during the state’s push for its own roadless rule would hurt his chances. The Colorado Roadless Rule, crafted by the state to manage more than 4 million acres of the state’s largely undeveloped public lands, has been moved steadily forward by Gov. Bill Ritter’s administration despite conservationist’s concerns that it allows far too many road-building exceptions for power and water infrastructure, logging, ski area expansion and oil and gas development.

In fact, a group of Colorado environmental groups is launching the “Don’t Sell Colorado Short” Roadless Road Show at the Alliance Center in lower downtown Denver Friday, heading to Durango for a formal launch before moving around the state to document and call attention to Coloradan’s support for a more restrictive roadless rule like the one the Clinton administration put in place in 2001. That rule was quickly tossed aside by the Bush administration, but conservationists, for the most part, seek reinstatement of a nationwide rule similar to the Clinton rule.

“We would like to congratulate Mr. Sherman and ask that he promote the long-term conservation of our backcountry hunting and fishing traditions,” said Joel Webster, associate director of campaigns for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Western Lands, “including upholding and defending the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which safeguards our nation’s roadless areas, should he be confirmed as undersecretary.”

Ritter also issued a statement of support for Sherman, which in part reads:

“Having twice served as Colorado’s director of natural resources, first in the [Gov. Dick] Lamm administration and again since 2007, I know he will do an outstanding job as undersecretary. President Obama’s nomination of yet another talented Colorado leader speaks volumes about our place on the national stage.”

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